Republicans Will Come to Regret Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Crusade

The president’s new census policy isn’t just morally abhorrent—it’s bad politics.

A person's hand filling out the 2020 census form.
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On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum excluding the country’s undocumented community from being counted for the apportionment of congressional representatives following the 2020 census. At this point, it should come as no surprise. The effort to strip undocumented immigrants of their right to be counted in the census is a natural progression of Trump’s inherent nativism. The measure, which will likely be challenged in court, is part of a pattern, the latest in a long list of aggravations aimed at making life in the United States not only inhospitable but almost impossible for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.


The administration has separated families at the border, allowed inhumane conditions inside privately run immigration detention centers, gone after sanctuary cities that protect the undocumented, and relentlessly pursued hundreds of thousands of young men and women protected from deportation by the DACA program. Trump had previously tried to include a question on citizenship in the current census. He failed. Emboldened, the president now seeks to discourage participation in the process and, if all else fails, erase the consequences of its results.


In addition to being morally abhorrent, this is also terrible politics.

Think of the economy. As the pandemic has laid bare in striking ways, the undocumented are an essential part of American life. Without the very immigrants that Trump now wants to wipe out from the country’s political restructuring, the American economy as we know it would cease to exist. Contrary to the president’s rhetoric on immigration, the immense majority of the undocumented are hardworking, honest, tax-paying, de facto Americans. They contribute more than $11 billion in taxes every year to the economy.


Then think of the political sphere. Trump’s assault on the undocumented has obvious political underpinnings. It aims to reduce the community’s heft by erasing its effect on the country’s congressional map. This might seem like shrewd short-term politics, but it could backfire in the long term, both for Trump and for the Republican Party, which is already defending conservative bastions where immigrants, legal and undocumented, carry considerable weight. In California, a state Trump has targeted at every turn through his anti-immigrant invective, Republicans are still paying the price for Gov. Pete Wilson’s attack on immigrants a quarter-century ago.

Finally, Trump’s memo should put to rest the president’s cynical attempt at a rapprochement with the Hispanic immigrant community. Just a couple of weeks ago, Trump set out to fool Hispanics into believing he had changed his ways. To do so, the president scheduled a whole week of blatant pandering. It included a laudatory visit from Mexico’s president, a meeting with some of the country’s Latino business leaders (scene of the now-infamous Goya affair), and the signing of an executive order supposedly in support of “Hispanic prosperity.”


“The Hispanic American community is a treasure,” Trump said. It is now clear that the president’s newfound appreciation for the country’s Hispanic immigrants does not extend to the undocumented.

It never has and it never will. Trump has had three years to prove he could approach the country’s immigration dilemma in a humane and thoughtful way. He has done the opposite. Now, the undocumented community deserves to be counted not only because it is constitutionally mandated (as the courts will hopefully prove), but because members of that community are, in every way but a piece of paper, American. And they make the country great.

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